Once again I have a bundle of books to review for the Children's Special issue of TBR. Once more the books have nothing in common. There is no unifying theme, no single target group. When publishers are regressively dividing readers according to gender (pink books for girls; action books for boys), it's great to have a bunch of books that are not specifically for one gender or another. But the quality is uneven. The best thing would be to review them separately, starting with the Puffins. In fact, I only have Puffins, which is a bit strange at this time when publishers are developing YA lists.
Ruskin Bond' Escape from Java and Other Stories of Danger is a collection of five stories, including 'A Flight of Pigeons,' a love story set during the Mutiny of 1857. An Indian landlord gives two English women shelter. The Indians' hatred for the British seeps into the haveli but the Indian host stands by his hospitality—I have not given shelter to two angrezans, he says, but to friends.
Escape from Java is set in World War II. Ruskin Bond’s stories about a community and a time he knew well are among his best, largely (I think) because he evokes a lifestyle through well-chosen details. In this story, it is 78rpm records of Harry Lauder and Gracie Fields. An attitude and a personality are caught in Mr Muggeridge complaining about the rain (Give me the English rain any day, he says), when he is back in England where he has longed to be, he sends postcards saying the English rain is awful.
Ruskin Bond's stories about his grandfather are infused with his loving interest in the eccentric old man and the noisy chaotic household ruled over by grandmother. The Anglo Indians in our school in the 1960s were always saying how wonderful things were 'back home.' It used to annoy us very much. But the Anglo Indian (in both senses—Eurasian and English people who lived in India for long periods) inflections in Ruskin Bond's stories fill me with a deep sense of loss for a strand of our culture that has gone. It wasn't just their longing for back home, but their singing and jiving, their excellent teaching, their vocabulary and intonation, the way the women dressed for church in Marks and Spencer twin sets and Princess Margaret ...
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